Retro: Sheffield tram crashes

Sheffield tram crash
Sheffield tram crash
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During the first era of Sheffield’s electric tramways from 1899 to October 1960 there were, thankfully, few serious accidents.

However, one in March 1902 and another in July 1950 hit the Star headlines and are illustrated here. Describing the first incident, during the afternoon of March 27, as an ‘alarming accident in Sheffield’, the Star went on to reveal that a car had run away with passengers experiencing a miraculous escape.

The incident occurred on the Intake section of the tramway on a steep gradient. When the tram driver had brought his vehicle to a stop at the terminus, he put on the brake on his platform.

Had he acted according to the rules laid down he would have immediately gone to the other end, made ready for the journey into the city and remained at his post.

But, taking advantage of the stop, he ran across the road to a house in order to obtain some hot water for a mash of tea.

He was absent, it was said, only a few minutes. In the meantime the conductor had taken his post and apparently all was ready for the return journey.

The conductor was certain that he heard the gong ring at the front of the tram. This was the signal from the driver that he was ready to start, and accordingly his colleague on the rear platform released the brake.

Whether the gong was sounded, or whether it was the conductor’s imagination, could not be clearly ascertained.

Immediately, the car moved forward. For several seconds there was no alarm but then the passengers remarked they were travelling at a good speed.

Only moments later there was a cry from those in the front of the tram: “There’s no driver.”

Several people were standing, and the conductor therefore was not able to see if this was true or not, but the rapidly increasing speed showed him something was seriously wrong. Quickly, he applied the brake which only seconds earlier he had released. This proved futile as the wheels simply skidded on the track and the speed was not checked.

Passengers panicked and a wild rush took place for the door. The confusion was such that no-one reached the platform and people struggled at the doorway in a hopeless muddle.

For 300 yards the car veered out of control. Then there was a grating noise and a huge shock and the wild journey ended.

Turning to the left, the tram had run partially across the roadway and on to the footpath, knocked down a wall and come to a halt.

Passengers were able to leave without any difficulty as the tram had not tilted over to any great extent. It was found that all had escaped with a few bruises and a severe shaking.

A child who was on the footpath came off worse than the passengers, having been caught by the tram just as it stopped, and sustained a fractured arm.

Both the driver and conductor, deemed to have acted negligently, were subsequently dismissed.

When a tram overturned at Meersbrook on July 17, 1950, The Star revealed that no similar incident had occurred in Sheffield during the previous 43 years.

In that period city trams had travelled more than 500 million miles and had carried 6,500 million passengers. The last time a tram turned on its side after an accident was in 1907 and that too was in Chesterfield Road at Woodseats, not far from the 1950 crash.

During the afternoon of July 17 about 30 people, mostly women, were on the tram when a lorry collided with it after descending the steep hill of Derbyshire Lane.

Passers-by and people from nearby houses who rushed to the scene saw tram driver C Cottam, aged 53, scramble from the wreckage with a head wound. Later he said he had nothing to say but “I didn’t know what hit me.”

Conductor Isaac Ironsides sustained slight facial injuries.

A number of passengers climbed out of the tram. Others had to be carried to the roadside, which became a temporary first aid station.

Fortunately, doctors from nearby surgeries and ambulance men were quickly on the spot.

Passenger David Blackwell, aged 17, was on his way to return some library books when the accident occurred. Arriving home on a stretcher with arm and head injuries, he found his books had reached there first.

Lorry driver Thomas Henbrey of Birmingham was trapped in his cab and crow bars were used to release him. Both he and a 16-year-old mate, Geoffrey Harper, were detained in hospital.

In the gardens of the houses opposite the incident in Derbyshire Lane tenants discussed the latest crash.

During the previous 10 years, vehicles ranging from horse-drawn carts to RAF trailers had occasionally collided with garden walls. With one exception, the houses had escaped serious damage. But local resident J T Hall said: “It is becoming too much of a habit.”

The tram was so badly wrecked that, after being hauled to the side of the road, part of it was cut up on the spot. Engineers later got the chassis, with the top deck removed, back on the lines and towed it away.

Special thanks to Paul Fox for his help with this piece. If any readers have pictures of the 1907 Sheffield tram crash, please let us know.